Assist Art Group
What do you do?
Once a month we run an art workshop at our hall with ASSIST Sheffield who support destitute asylum seekers.
We provide art materials, refreshments, snooker and table tennis but more importantly we provide a safe and compassionate environment where people can relax.
How long has it been running?
The group started in June 2016. It was run at another venue but needed a new home. Somewhere near the city centre, suitable for doing artwork in.
Our hall was an obvious choice so I asked the church committee and they were supportive. Initially ASSIST provided me with volunteers but now it is staffed by four of our members.
How much work is
Are there any issues which have arisen?
What's the cost
The group is only once a month so it is not a big commitment.
The sessions last for two hours but we arrive early to set up and clear away afterwards.
Sometimes I go to other refugee events to publicise the group.
Some members have questioned whether it is right to help people who they perceive as being here illegally.
I have explained that it is legal to travel here to claim asylum even if you don’t have a visa. Asylum destitution is a fairly recent problem.
When asylum seekers have their claim refused they may be detained and deported but quite often that doesn’t happen.
They stay here but are evicted and have their benefits stopped so they become homeless and destitute. They are not allowed to work.
Their life is very hard and if they were not genuinely escaping persecution or warfare I believe they would return home. Destitute asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Have you had a good response?
Thank you for the good atmosphere.” "I come here, I get happy."
Our guests are very positive. The only negative has been that they would like the group to be much more often. As an off shoot to this initiative we are hosting a fundraising concert for ASSIST.
My husband plays in a concert band so they are providing the music. Sheffield Christadelphians are providing the venue and ASSIST are doing everything else.
We chose Tuesdays because our heating comes on every Tuesday so the warmth was going to waste.
The food we provide and a few art materials are the only extra expense.
Any training needed?
I’m an artist but the skill involved is much more about creating a good atmosphere than creating good art.
I talk to new volunteers and make sure they understand the extreme stress and suffering that our guests may have experienced. I also stress that it would be wrong to ask questions of the refugees.
We don’t even ask them where they have come from because that reveals so much about them. We like to let them set the agenda. They often tell us about their home country, rarely tell us why they had to leave and never mention the journey.
We don’t try to talk to them all of the time. Many of them have very poor English so speaking to us is hard work. They like to be somewhere that feels relaxed and friendly and to be welcome to chat if they wish too.
Snooker and table tennis work well because they don’t have to have much English to enjoy them and feel they are participating.